Tips for managing email effectively

Email graphic

Email overload? Here's a few tips for managing email effectively.

Just before Percy starts work for the day, he gets that familiar sinking sensation in his many emails are in his inbox today...

Percy manages a regional team and receives large quantities of emails every day. Reading and responding takes a long time, most of the emails are still unread and people are regularly saying to him, “You haven’t responded to my email” or “I did email you about this over a week ago”. As a result, Percy feels like he’s letting people down and not communicating to them enough, he's been working late, just to catch up.

Sound familiar? Many of us feel overwhelmed by the amount of emails that we receive and need to respond to. But when we use it appropriately, email is an incredibly useful communication tool.

There are ways to manage your email so that you're more productive. Here are some tips to help you manage your inbox, so that you can get on with the real work at hand.


Check email at intervals

  • Checking your email regularly during the day can be an effective way to keep your inbox at manageable levels.
  • However, the constant interruption and distraction that comes from multitasking in this way can dramatically lower your productivity, and disrupt your ability to get other work done.
  • One strategy you can use is to check email only at set points during the day. For instance, you may decide that you'll only check your email first thing in the morning, before lunch, and at the end of the day.
  • Or you can also reserve time to read and respond to email after a long period of focused work. If you're concerned that your colleagues will be annoyed or confused that you're not responding to their email quickly, explain that you only check email at certain times, and that they can call you or use instant messaging if the matter is really urgent.
  • Note: Clearly, in some roles, you will have to check email on a regular basis, as with all of these tips, use your judgment, based on your circumstances.


Reading email – two minute rule

  • When you read email, you can waste hours if you don't use this time effectively.
  • If the email will take less than two minutes to read and reply to, then take care of it right now, even if it's not a high priority. The idea behind this is that if it takes less than two minutes to action, it would take up more of your time putting it in the “to do later” as to come back to it means more thinking about it, the time to reread it and in between the risk of it being forgotten. If you can deal with it in less than 2 minutes take care of it now.
  • For emails that will take longer than two minutes to read or respond to, schedule time on your calendar, or add this as an action on your to do list, to do later. Highlight, flag, or categorise messages that need a response.
  • Tip: Many of us also get lots of internal notifications. These are those "FYI" emails from managers or team members who want to keep us "in the loop." If you see your name in the "cc" field instead of the "To" field, chances are it's an FYI email. Consider filing it in a "To Read" folder, and tackle it when you have time.


Good team habits

  • One of the best things that you can do, to limit the amount of email you need to process, is to encourage people to send you less.
  • For instance, if certain team members regularly send you long, drawn-out emails, let them know. Tell them gently but firmly that because of the demand on your time, you'd appreciate emails no longer than a paragraph or two. Anything longer than that should warrant a phone call.


Organise your email

  • Can you imagine having an inbox with nothing in it? It almost sounds too good to be true! Although a completely empty inbox might be unrealistic for many of us, keeping our main inbox cleared can make us more organised, and help eliminate stress.
  • First, set up a simple filing system to help manage your mail.
  • You could use categories titled "Action Items," "Waiting," "Reference," and "Archives." If you're able to stay on top of your folders – particularly "Action" and "Waiting" folders – you could use them as an informal To-Do List for the day.
  • If four categories sounds too simplistic for your needs, you can set up a more detailed system. For instance, you could create a folder for every project that you're working on, or team that you work with.


Non-essential mail

  • If you regularly receive email such as newsletters, alerts and article feeds, you could use rules, so that they're instantly delivered to a particular folder. This will help keep your primary inbox clear, and they'll be in one place, ready to read at a convenient time.
  • Tip: You can make a world of difference for your colleagues, managers and clients when you write effective emails. This will not only save them stress and frustration, but succinct, relevant emails can also save an enormous amount of time – yours and theirs. 


Published 6th January 2020

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